Monday, November 5, 2007

Week 7: The Exhumation of the Headless Beast

We showed up last friday with our brand-spanking new shovels, some not-so baby safe (but figure skate safe?) gigantic zipper-lock storage bags, and a dream.... to convert lake superior back into our watusi pit and exhume the rest of the beast, save a shin or two. Done and done.

We began with the weekly bucket-drain-train of our pit, which takes much longer every week because the pit is becoming more like a big chasm every week. After our aquatic watusi became, well, un-aquatic, we got down to business. That business was to map, remove, bag, and tag as much of the watusi as possible, because the ground will be frozen sooner rather than later with winter coming along, which makes our job a little problematic. So some of us hopped into the pit to continue the excavation, others were recruited to be Chris' right-hand people and help with the mapping of the site, and others sifted through the backdirt piles, which consisted mostly of various forms of fecal matter...yay.

The watusi has been almost completely excavated (90-95%), the back side was almost completely uncovered and everything (ribs, thoracic vertebrae, lumbar, scapula, long-bones, pelvis, carpals/tarsals and their meta counterparts, etc.) except some wandering toes, incisors and the tibia and fibula of the back left leg have been removed and brought to the lab for cleaning. Some of the leg bones of the second individual in the pit (which we believe now to be another watusi) were removed as well, but unfortunately it does not look as if we will have enough time to completely excavate watusi 2 before the ground is completely frozen.

The other exciting find of the day was a bag of bird remains, which was found in the south-east corner of the pit. Though we have no idea when the bird was buried and its relation to the watusi(s) burial, we can see that being put in a garbage bag slows the rate of decomposition, which leads to some of the nice "cream cheese" stuff we keep finding...mmm mmm good.

The site has also been almost entirely mapped, save for the tree line and a few other minor details. This means that we should have a complete map of the site and the finds by next week.

So what do we do now that the watusi is almost fully excavated and the ground is about to freeze? Well, a few things. The first obvious thing would be to articulate the watusi skeleton, which will happen, but the details aren't fully worked out yet so further posts will fill you in. Also we can theorize on possible burial scenarios. As of right now it seems that we are removing the watusi from a mass grave. Judging by newspaper clippings found in the pit, which have provided us with a possible relative burial date of the spring of 1992, and a clear stratigraphy change at the edges of the pit, the theory that has been proposed is that perhaps the animals who die during the winter are stored and buried in a mass grave in the spring when the ground thaws. This annual mass grave theory seems like a logical and efficient way of disposing of those unfortunate animals who die during the winter. To be able to prove this theory however we must first follow the edges of our current pit and completely excavate everything we find in it, and test pit perpendicularly from the road into the back of the lot (behind the "house") to see if there are any other, possibly older, mass graves. This unfortunately will have to wait until after the winter to happen. Also, the land-ownership records for the lot are currently in the process of being attained, these records could help us learn more about the changes that could have occurred to the area over and after the time it was used as Parc-Safari's animal cemetery.

Here are pictures from week 7. There's a lot of them, 25 to be precise, and that's cut down from 89.

Awesome Pictures, courtesy of Ieva.

The Bucket Train


Removing the what looks to be revolting tarp from the watusi pit

Water-logged Watusi ribs

Peek-a-boo? no....LEVEL!!!

Bone from the bag-O-bird remains

Working away in the watusi pit

The Lumbar region of the watusi remains

Mapping the Lumbar region

Excavating the ribs

The pelvis (?) of watusi #2 in the North-Western corner of the pit

Sue and Tabitha observing a find

Who let Valerie use the machete? Not shown in this picture: Brendan's severed limbs


The Headless Beast (or the watusi minus one skull). The pelvis is in the back right of the picture and the head (if it was still there) would be in the bottom left.

Remains again from a different angle, the pelvis and left and right femurs right up in front, followed by the lumbar, then the thoracic vertebrae and ribs

Another shot of the remains

Last shot of the remains, this one gives you an idea of how big the watusi pit has become

2001: A Space Odyssey

Watusi Pelvis + Face = Frank the Bunny

The empty pit after removing most of the watusi

Keep Babies out of the bag... watusi pelvises are ok though, if you can make them fit

Baggin' & Taggin'

And to finish off with a bang: the surprise that was hiding under/within the bag-O-bird remains

That's the end for today, until next time.

Cheers, The Rhino Group

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